Farm Tools Project
The project engages Maine farmers in a visual exploration of the use of hand tools on small farms working outside of industrial agriculture and the exchanges that take place between farmers and the land. Lead artist, Sarah Loftus and her collaborator, Michel Droge, will travel around the state with a portable, hand-built cyanotype kit (an old form of non-toxic photography relying on water and sunlight) to create images with people in their fields, barns, and greenhouses and talking with farmers about their practices, the significance of the tools they choose to use, and how they engage with the earth to produce and harvest food.
Michel Droge and Sarah Loftus met through Maine Farmland Trust’s Joseph A. Fiore Art Center and decided to combine their work as an artist and archaeologist to explore the material culture of Maine farms on the outskirts of industrial agriculture and the exchanges that take place between farmers, tools, and the land. Over the past summer, they built a portable, wood and copper cyanotype kit with the help of Jack Manly, a boat builder in Warren, and began traveling to small farms across the state with the box and a digital recorder. They spend a few hours at each place working alongside farmers to create images of tools pulled from barns, fields, and greenhouses, and talking with people about their work, why they do it, and where they see Maine farming and food headed in the future.
Loftus has been researching American farming and the material culture of daily life for many years. Droge is a research-based artist with a socially engaged practice whose work addresses the environment and climate change. They decided to collaborate to look at the material choices people make on small farms, the labor of it, and the objects they pick up each day in order to grow food and maintain sustainable relationships with the land. They are focusing on tools because, as with each farm, they are embedded with their own histories and stories. Tools are extensions of ourselves, a second pair of hands, and partners in our complicated relationships with the world. Their forms have their own animus, but also speak to humanity's collective capacity for invention and ingenuity over generations.
As with farming, the cyanotype images are produced with sunlight and water and the ghostly beauty of the prints speaks to these generational relationships and the fragility of small farms facing a suite of environmental and industrial challenges as well as the enduring resilience of a way of life.